Recent Gifts
from William and Alison Vareika

This selection of paintings and drawings by celebrated American artists John La Farge (1835-1910) and William Trost Richards (1833-1905) is the gift of William Vareika (’74) and his wife Alison, presented to the McMullen Museum in honor of the thirtieth reunion of William’s Boston College class. While a political science major, he enrolled in a single class in the history of art that changed his life. He subsequently abandoned plans to attend law school to pursue a career in the arts.

These recent donations were chosen from the Vareikas’ extensive collection of both artists to complement the didactic interests of Boston College faculty and thereby to enhance the educational experience of students by affording them the opportunity to study original works of art.

Click to view works by Lafarge

John La Farge (1835-1910)

John La Farge was one of the most important American artists and cultural figures of the nineteenth century. Born in 1835 in New York City to wealthy French émigré Roman Catholic parents, he received his first instruction in art from his grandfather, a minor French artist. He was educated at St. John’s College (later Fordham) in New York and at Mt. Saint Mary’s College in Maryland, where he graduated in 1853. He also studied under the French Hudson River School artist Regis Gignoux.

In 1856, La Farge traveled to Europe where he briefly studied with the French master Thomas Couture, who found the young artist to be too talented and original to remain under his tutelage and recommended that he visit the museums and cathedrals of the Continent.

Back in America, while studying law, La Farge took the advice of his friend Richard Morris Hunt, the architect, to travel to Newport, Rhode Island to study painting in the studio of Hunt’s older brother William Morris Hunt, who also had been a pupil of Thomas Couture, but more importantly of Jean-Francois Millet.

In 1859, La Farge moved to Newport to study with Hunt but quickly found that he possessed an original talent and left the confines of the studio to paint directly from nature, inspired by Newport’s beautiful environment and his own advanced approach to aesthetics.

It was in Newport during the 1860’s and early 1870’s that some scholars suggest that La Farge produced the first impressionist experiments painted on American soil and also some of the most beautiful flower paintings ever created. In this period, the artist also combined a precocious interest in Japanese art and in the work of the British Pre-Raphaelites to produce a series of inventive illustrations for various book and magazine publications that anticipate the Art Nouveau movement.

In 1876, La Farge accepted the commission to work with architect Henry Hobson Richardson on the interior decoration of Trinity Church in Copley Square, Boston. This marked the beginning of the artist’s important career as a decorative artist, after which he received numerous domestic, public and ecclesiastical decorative commissions throughout the United States. He is considered the father of the American mural movement and invented the use of opalescent glass in the manufacture of colored glass windows.

In 1886, La Farge traveled to Japan with his friend Henry Adams, with whom he later traveled to the South Seas in 1890-1891. In these distant lands, La Farge painted people and landscape, later publishing illustrated books of these adventures. In addition, he wrote a number of other books and articles and lectured widely on such varied subjects as art criticism, cultural history, and the gospel story in art. A true “Renaissance man,” La Farge’s enduring impact was felt by the notables of his time: Stanford White, Henry James, William James, Henry Hobson Richardson, Julia Ward Howe, Henry Adams, and Augustus Saint-Gaudens – to name just a few.

When La Farge died in 1910, he was eulogized by the art critic and biographer Royal Cortissoz as: “our sole ‘Old Master’, our sole type of genius that went out with the Italian Renaissance.”

Locally, the artist’s murals and opalescent glass windows are found at Trinity Church, Copley Square; Memorial Hall and Sanders Theater, Harvard University; Grace Church, Newton; Grace Church, Medford; First Congregational Church, Methuen; Crane Memorial Library, Quincy; Unity Church, North Easton; First Church, Salem; Wellesley College Chapel; and Emmanuel Episcopal Church, West Roxbury.

Click to view works by Richards

William Trost Richards (1833-1905)

An important nineteenth-century American landscape and marine painter, William Trost Richards was one of the few nineteenth-century Americans equally skilled as a watercolorist and painter in oils. Naturally talented as a young man, he worked for a firm designing gas light fixtures. Later Richards took lessons in his native Philadelphia with German artist Paul Weber, before traveling to Europe for further study, particularly at Dusseldorf, where he refined his precise drawing skills. In Europe, he was also strongly influenced by the ideals of the English Pre-Raphaelite painters, who espoused the meticulous and detailed rendering of the minutiæ of nature.

Early in his career, in the tradition of the Hudson River School, Richards painted and sketched the unspoiled landscape in rural Pennsylvania, the Catskill and Adirondack Mountain ranges, and along the New Jersey Shore.

In the summer of 1874 Richards visited Newport, Rhode Island and became enthralled with the area’s sublime coastline. He continued to paint there for the rest of his life, dividing time between Newport and Chester County, Pennsylvania. Richards also enjoyed painting excursions to Europe, especially Britain and Ireland, where he produced an important body of work. Today, Richards is best remembered for the Luminist seascapes, imbued with light and atmosphere, which he created along the Rhode Island, New Jersey and British coasts.

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